blogitto ergo sum

February 14, 2016

#224 – Behavior-based interviewing is not the question

Filed under: business buz,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 18:39
Tags: , , , , ,


Once upon a time, I came across this article by Liz Ryan, where she attacks, criticizes, and ridicules behavior-based interviewing.

One of her arguments goes like this: “Imagine you’re calling a plumber because your kid stuck his sock in the bathtub drain. Are you going to say to the plumber, “Tell me about a time when you had to get something out of a tub drain.”? [Extra period included in original post]

You’re not. If you did, the plumber would say “Look, buddy, you want me to come over or not?” It’s no different on a job interview.”

This is when you smile, feeling great about hating those questions you’ve been told to ask. I did, for a second.  Then I was not.  It is very different on a job interview.

A plumber is a problem solver, a service provider.  I want him to come, do his thing to meet my requirements,  the best he can, for the right price, leave no mess behind, and be gone.

An employee is someone I bring into my team; someone I depend on, someone I trust, and intend to work with for a long time.  We need to be aligned, in sync, share a vision, communicate a lot.  A good employee may often act on my behalf, executing a strategy we agree on.  Hmm, suddenly it’s so unlike a plumber.  I’d love to see Ms. Ryan’s reaction when the plumber takes initiative and decides it’s also a great time to replace the faucets.  according to his roadmap that is.  At work however, if I hired the right person for the job, I expect her to take initiatives, I trust her; no, I expect her to come up w
ith new ideas that promote our business, and are aligned with our long-term goals.

Do I need to spell out the cost of hiring a full-time employee?  Or worse, the cost of replacing an ill-fitting the-truth-about-behavioral-interviewing-03employee…

The cost of hiring a plumber is often as low as the time it takes to make a phone call, schedule a visit, negotiate price.  Done.  Well, not exactly.  Whether we use Yelp, Angie List, Facebook, Next Door, or call a friend, we ask questions very similar to the condemned behavior-based ones.  “Tell me about the plumber you called when you had to get something out of a tub drain.”  Usually you’d add, “Was he clean?  On time?  Was the problem resolved in one visit?  How much did he charge?”

Most plumbers, when asked, provide contact info of previous customers who’ll answer all these behavior-based questions. Same goes for the mechanic, hair designer, PCP, or the vet.  Like it or not, we judge many of our service providers by their past behavior, whether we get the answers directly from them or from others.


A plumber with lots of negative reviews, is judged for his past behavior and performance.  By design, Yelp, Twitter and their likes provide “behavioral/performance-based assessment.”  LinkedIn enables its plumbers, and everyone else, to share only their best behavior and great performances.  As the world’s de facto professional platform, LinkedIn’s cyber-bullying potential could easily destroy a person’s career.  This is why, IMHO, we get to approve our colleagues’ reviews, and decide if we want to include them in our profiles.  This is a great source to find one’s better and best behavior patterns.  As for the not so great? This is, in a big way, where and when behavior/performance-based questions come to our help.


The challenge recruiters often face is that an interview is as good as the interviewer.  Too often, hiring managers are not required or won’t take the time to develop a minimal level of interviewing skills.  Either they have it or not.  I’d say this is one key reasons companies develop rigid hiring processes and interview scripts.

“Tell me about a decision you made that was wrong, and how you managed it?”   Silence;  long ensuing silence.  This is one of my favorites, both as the interviewer or the interviewee.  It is a great opportunity to learn about a person’s style.  if you did anything of substance, released a product, dealt with a challenging customer or partner, produced an event, drove change… if you did, then there was a mistake, something you could have done better, faster, more efficient, an opportunity… must be.   Once upon a time, in a different everything, a candidate’s answer sealed the decision.  After rewording the question three times, and listening to the nothingness in the room, it no longer mattered how well he answered all other questions, or how impressive he was on the phone interview, or even that he was recommended by a friend.   Would you want someone that cannot even entertain the idea that he may be wrong join your team?

“Can you share your experience dealing with a naysayer in your team?  What did you do?” We know such people exist.  How one manages such situation says a lot about a personal style.  Product managers rarely manage the people that make the product.  One’s leadership isn’t and cannot be the result of authority or rank.  It requires an ability to communicate with multiple people, in multiple roles, with very different personalities, and build with each the rapport, trust, and respect required.  So, how did you deal with naysayers in the past?

Unlike Ms. Ryan, Lou Adler‘s criticism of the ability of past behavior to predict future performance is more serious, calling out that one’s [past] success in doing X, wasn’t only dependent on one’s ability, skills, persona, but also on circumstances.  In his post PAST BEHAVIOR DOESN’T PREDICT FUTURE PERFORMANCE, Adler points out circumstances that may contribute to the success or a failure of one’s behavior in achieving the desired results.  He recommends performance-based hiring.  And of course he is right.  Circumstances are critical factors in one’s success.  More important though is the distinction between behavior-based to performance-based.  Calling it out, Adler helped me realize that we often say one, while meaning the other.  Thank you.


However, no interview can be all behavior performance-based.  A good interview should be a mix of checking facts & history [validate the resume], chemistry, trust, style & rapport [AKA a great or a bad culture fit], subject matter expertise, values.

And let’s not forget, a big part of a job interview is sales and marketing effort.  While the interviewee is pitching himself, her ability to deliver, being a good fit, the interviewer sells the position, the company, the team, the challenge, and opportunity.  Encouraging the candidate to ask as many questions as possible.  These questions in themselves  tell a lot priorities, values, and past experience [read: “traumas”].  Or…

  • I: “This was my last question. Thank you.  Now it’s all about you.  Do you have any question?”
  • Candidate I: “When do I get a promotion?  What does it take to get promoted?”
  • I: “This is a new role.   It’ll take a minimum 18-24 months for one to get to that point.  What would you consider a promotion? What position would you consider a promotion?”
  • Candidate I: “Join that other team doing that [very different] role.”
  • I: “So you are interested in the position we are discussing as a transition, a bridge to another [very different] role?”
  • Candidate I: “Yes.” A pause. [I imagine him replaying his last sentences in his head.  “I guess I’m not the right person for this [current] position.”
  • The voice in my head: “You think?!”




1 Comment »

  1. Forevergeek is using the stock design that comes with WordPress… no credit for me, unfortunately. This one I also stole, and re-jiggered to suit my n Click

    Comment by helenaalvarado2206 — April 8, 2016 @ 06:28 | Reply

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